No matter where I live — Edinburgh, New York, Lyon — I crave the tastes of my homeland, North Carolina. Although there’s no way of obtaining Cheerwine or hushpuppies over here, I know that if I can locate an Indian grocer, chances are good I’ll be able to feed at least one of my cravings.
Most Indian grocery stores carry a variety of imported produce, from bitter gourd to fresh chilies, and nearly always okra. I’d been hunting around Edinburgh for weeks for a good Indian shop when lo and behold, my boss moved in right above one. I’ve been getting my okra (and chaat, and paratha) fix weekly ever since.
Although I can eat okra any way you can cook it, my favorite style is straight up fried. Sure, it effectively neutralizes all the health benefits, but I’ll be real — I don’t eat okra because it’s healthy. I eat it because it’s delicious! I slice the pods in rounds, wash them, and dredge them all in cornmeal. Then I heat up some corn or vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet till just before it smokes and plop the whole mess in. Plenty of salt and pepper, fry till it’s golden brown and eat hot. (I usually can’t wait to actually serve it at the table — I’m scooping up morsels with my bare hands!)
Try it with any grilled meat and some sliced ripe tomatoes. Or, if you can’t control yourself like me, just eat it by hand like popcorn.
1 lb okra, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds (Discard ends and tips.)
1-2 cups yellow cornmeal, enough to coat the okra
vegetable oil for frying
1. Heat the oil on high in a heavy cast iron skillet. (If you don’t have cast iron, use the heaviest-bottomed pan you have.)
2. While the oil is getting nice and hot, slice your okra and wash in a colander. Dump the cornmeal and work with your hands until each piece is well coated.
3. When the oil is good and hot, almost smoking, dump in the okra all at once. Stir around with a spatula or wooden spoon so that all pieces cook evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Tip: More salt = better taste!)
4. When okra is golden brown, remove from pan and serve hot.
If you want to spice it up, try adding cayenne or chili powder to the cornmeal, or sprinkle on top as the okra cooks.